Office refurbishments rise to all-time high

London has seen a record volume of office refurbishment starts, according to Deloitte’s Summer 2023 London Office Crane Survey.

As it stands there are 37 refurbishment starts, the most since the numbers started being recorded in 2005.

Sophie Allan, director in real assets advisory at Deloitte, said: “Developers seem to be cautiously optimistic about the future of London’s development pipeline.

“Positive signs include a huge increase in the volume of new starts compared to the previous survey, and the highest volume of refurbishment starts on record, as developers race to avoid obsolescence.

“New infrastructure and expanding transport links have attracted people to previously overlooked areas like mid-town and the eastern fringes of the City.

“This is undoubtedly a vote of confidence in London after the intense disruption of the pandemic, disturbance to supply chains and rising inflation experienced over the past year.”

Increased refurbishments have been driven by a need to reach the anticipated Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) regulations to achieve Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) B rating by 2030.

Development pipeline

Since the last survey in Winter 2022, the average new scheme size has risen from c.79,000 sq. ft to c.88,000 sq. ft.

West End new starts are up for the second consecutive survey with the volume rising to 1.3 million sq. ft., showing it is a market of increasing occupier focus.

The city has dropped to just under 600,000 sq. ft. in contrast and has seen a steady decline in activity over the past few survey periods.

Margaret Doyle, chief insights officer for financial services and real estate at Deloitte, said: “Following pandemic-induced home working mandates, many businesses are now encouraging office attendance more proactively and are considering how to attract employees back to the office. Tenants’ shift toward quality over quantity has led to desire for attractive, sustainable, well-kitted out space, close to transport hubs and amenities.

“We expect that the need to bring offices up to scratch – especially in terms of energy efficiency – will drive London’s development for the rest of the decade.”

A total of 22 schemes, covering 3.6 million sq. ft., that were previously estimated to complete within this survey period, have now pushed their estimated completion dates to the remaining three quarters of 2023. With over 10 million sq. ft. now projected to complete, 2023 looks to be on track to catch-up with many long-delayed completions.

Allan added: “Whilst construction levels remain high, developers are acutely aware of elevated construction costs, which remains the biggest challenge, with both labour and material seen as major drivers.”

Similarly, respondents to Deloitte’s latest CFO Survey cited persistent labour shortages as one of the top risks to business.

However, they expect this to improve over time, with a marginal improvement over the next 12 months and the elimination of significant or severe recruitment difficulties in two years’ time.

Environmental, social and governance

Developers continue to crave further clarity around the definition of net zero but are, in essence, eager and committed to achieve it. Responses ranged, but for the most part the belief remains that developments will hit their net zero target between now and 2030.

With the expected tightening of the MEES regulations, developers and building owners are recognising the pressure to ensure that their buildings achieve a minimum of EPC B by 2030.

Philip Parnell, real estate valuation lead at Deloitte, said: “At a time when many of the traditional drivers of development activity such as capital value growth are lacking, a combination of positive ESG-related opportunities and downside stranding risks associated with physical obsolescence and accelerated value erosion, means there is strong stimulus for renewal.”